Love true-crime podcasts? Subscribe to Murder Mile on iTunes, Podcast Addict, Podbean, Pocketcast, Stitcher, Acast, Tune-In, Otto Radio, Spotify or Libsyn
Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within one square mile of the West End.
Episode Twenty: On 1st November 2006, Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated in the heart of London’s West End, by two of Russia’s top assassins, using one of the most bizarre and deadliest poisons ever, and yet, from day one, his brutal murder was a textbook case of incompetence.
CLICK HERE to download the Murder Mile podcast via iTunes and to receive the latest episodes, click "subscribe". You can listen to it now by clicking the PLAY button on the embedded media player below. All transcribed versions are available in "Podcast Transcripts" (right)
Ep20 – The Bungled Assassinations of Alexander Litvinenko
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End. Today’s episode is about the bungled assassination attempts of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, whose truly incompetent murderers left a deadly trail of lethal poison all across London’s West End. Murder Mile contains grisly details which may offend, as well as realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there. My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile. Episode 20: The Bungled Assassinations of Alexander Litvinenko.
Today I’m on Shaftesbury Avenue; not the shit bit of Shaftesbury Avenue, but the really tacky bit wedged between Soho and Chinatown, just shy of Piccadilly Circus; where every day you’ll see a slew of easily duped tourists who have either forked-out a hundred quid each to sit for six hours on a rainy open-top bus to take blurry photos of Buckingham Palace as they whizz by at 40 miles-an-hour; sightseers in transparent ponchos with eight cameras around their necks and a bum-bag full of cash who struggle with an over-sized map and might as well be holding a sign which says “mug me”; and flocks of feckless overseas students with matching backpacks and no money who simply take up space, talk too loud and (let’s be honest) shoplift, as well as idiots with self-sticks, halfwits with Harrods bags and morons who give money to a motionless man in a Yoda mask, all who’ve come to London, only to avoid all of the truly amazing traditional British pubs, cafes and restaurants, and end up eating the same shit that they do back home, in an identical branch of Planet Hollywood, McDonalds or Pizza-Hut. (exhales) Of course, if you’re visiting our lovely city, thank you for coming to London, and we hope you enjoy your stay. Oh, and come on a Murder Mile Walk, it really is excellent.
Right now, I’m standing outside of The Piccadilly Hotel at 65-73 Shaftesbury Avenue, formerly called The Shaftesbury; a four star hotel with a red-brick, gold trimmed and black glass-fronted façade, which the new owners, current staff and any future customers may be delighted to know that this was not the murder location. And yet, this is where our story begins; a true-story about espionage, Russian spies, British agents, foreign defectors and nuclear weapons, which happened under the very noses of the British secret service, and yet it wasn’t set in 1946, 1956 or even 1966, but in 2006. Fourteen years after the end of the Cold War, and yet, it began with the arrival of two of Russia’s most incompetent assassins named Andrey Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. (INTERSTITIAL).
On the bright crisp morning of Monday 16th October 2006, at a little after 7am, a routine flight for the Russian airline Transaero departed Moscow’s Vnukovo International airport on a four hour and twenty minute flight to London Gatwick. With the Boeing 747 being sparsely filled with just a smattering of suited businessmen and eager holiday-makers, the stewardesses began serving coffee, entirely unaware that two of their passengers had hidden about their bodies something so rare that it can’t be bought, something so small that it could be hidden in an eye-dropper, something so deadly it could kill everyone on the plane and no-one would know how, when or why.
But they weren’t smugglers, thieves or terrorists, they were just two men casually dressed in jeans, t-shirts and jackets, who sat, chatted and raised no suspicions. And yet both men had dark histories.
Born on 19th September 1966, Andrey Konstantinovich Lugovoy was a 40 year former commander for the KGB’s 9th directorate proving defensive, tactical and combat training for the Kremlin’s top soldiers, agents and assassins; later promoted to a Commander in the FBS (Russia’s secret police), Lugavoy now headed-up his own security firm known as the Ninth Wave. And yet, he didn’t look like a killer, instead - being 5 foot 9 inches tall, 13 stone in weight, with blue eyes, fair hair slightly combed over to disguise a slight bald-patch and a sneering face onto which a smile seemed unnatural – he looked more like a ragged Daniel Craig portraying a stereotypical Russian in a badly directed 1980’s spy thriller.
And although his partner on the flight - Dmitri Vladimirovich Kovtun – had a similar upbringing, being childhood friends who rose together through the ranks of the KGB, 41 year old Kovtun was moody, surly, antisocial and rude, who had very few morals or rules, and would often state “I don’t care about anything in life, only money”. And yet, he didn’t look like a killer either – as being a lightly toned man, with a tanned complexion, brown eyes, dark brown hair speckled with flecks of salt & pepper colouring and a smooth unwrinkled face having never cracked a smile – Kovtun looked more like a bad tribute act to the Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
And although they travelled under the guise of businessmen coming to the UK for a regular meeting, really they were here to kill, having been instructed (by the highest order in the Kremlin) to assassinate a Russian defector, staunch critic of Vladimir Putin, MI6 agent and investigative journalist into Russian organised crime, who neither man had any debts with, hatred for, and who was even Andrey Lugavoy’s friend, colleague and business partner. Their target’s name was Alexander Litvinenko (INTERSTITIAL).
At a little before 11:30am, the Boeing 747 from Moscow landed at Gatwick’s North Terminal and travelling light with flight cases and suit-bags, the hired assassins disembarked hiding one of the world’s deadliest murder weapons. Lugovoy & Kovtun were briefly questioned by customs agents whose instincts were finely tuned to detect anything suspicious, and as both men gave short evasive answers, had official passports, IDs and no criminal record, having had baggage checked, none of which contained alcohol, drugs, guns, knives or explosives, they legally entered Britain.
At exactly 11:49am, Lugavoy phoned Alexander Litvinenko, his business partner and intended target to confirm a pre-arranged meeting in Mayfair that afternoon; Alexander was in, the plan was on, and his death was just hours away. It was a murder that no-one knew was coming, all but a few people were expecting, and using a silent and effective weapon which was almost completely untraceable – if successful – his killers would be out of the country before anyone even knew what had happened. It was the perfect murder. Or it would have been, if Lugavoy & Kovtun hadn’t been so laughably inept.
Having ridden the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station, at roughly 1pm, Lugavoy & Kovtun checked into The Shaftesbury Hotel. With the tiring seven hour journey behind them, they both unpacked, washed and changed into their chosen disguises, adopting the look, style and demeanour of two highly respectable businessmen… if those businessmen were colour-blind, had dressed in the dark and their attire was entirely inspired by a cheesy mob-villain from 1980’s TV series Miami Vice.
Rather than adopting anonymous black suits to help them blend seamlessly into the city, Lugovoy opted for a loud brown chequered suit, Kovtun wore the tackiest silvery metallic suit imaginable, made of finest polyester, and with both men accentuating their look with brightly coloured shirts, garish ties, day-glo socks and a wrist-jangling assortment of chunky gold chains, bracelets and sovereign rings, their unsubtle attire was so shocking and eye-wateringly gaudy, that it caused the hotel staff to chuckle, with the hotel’s manager (Goran Krgo) later commenting “The colours didn’t match, the suits were either too big or too small. They just didn’t look like people who were used to wearing suits. They looked like – I think the expression is - like a donkey with a saddle”. But feeling like they looked a million Robles, Lugavoy & Kovtun headed out to commit the perfect murder.
At 3pm, as planned, with Lugavoy dressed like Burberry’s biggest fan and Kovtun shimmering like a budget disco ball, they confidently sashayed into the London office of Erinys; a security consultancy based at 25 Grosvenor Street and the chosen spot for Litvinenko’s murder, which happened to be just five hundred metres from the heavily guarded American Embassy, that also housed a CIA surveillance substation. And yet, Lugavoy & Kovtun sat down for a meeting in the fourth-floor boardroom of Erinys, with the company’s head Tim Reilly, and Lugavoy’s business partner Alexander Litvinenko.
Born Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko on 4th December 1962, 44 year old Litvinenko (who went under the pseudonym of Edwin Redwald Carter, but was known by his friends as Sacha) was a former KGB and FSB officer who defected to the UK in 2000 with his wife (Marina) and son (Anatoly), having become a fervent critic of corruption in the Kremlin, the systematic assassination of any dissenting voices and having accused former head of the FSB Vladimir Putin of orchestrating a series of bombings of civilian apartment blocks which killed 293 people, injured over 1000, and - having blamed it on the Chechen rebels - it boosted Putin’s electoral popularity in his bid to be President of the Russian Federation. Although slightly shy, spend-thrift and religiously teetotal (having converted from Christianity to Islam), with reddish brown hair, pale skin and blue-eyes, his weapon of choice was the pen, which he used with devastating effect as a journalist, author and an expert in Russian organised crime, who now worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service – MI6.
In the Erinys boardroom, on the fourth-floor of 25 Grosvenor Street, the meeting began with the customary polite chatter and pleasantries; Litvinenko had his back to the bay windows, Tim sat to his right and Lugavoy & Kovtun seated opposite (dressed like a pair of cartoon pimps), but every time Tim tried to steer the talk to business, Kovtun huffed, hardly uttering a single word and Lugavoy seemed desperate for his comrades to have a drink, as placed between, in the centre of the circular wooden table covered in a green fabric table cloth was four white cups and a freshly brewed pot of tea.
Tim Reilly would later state that Lugovoy was oddly persistent in his need to ensure that everyone was hydrated, “he kept on saying to me – don’t you want any [tea], won’t you have any?”, to the point where so exasperated had Tim become, even though he didn’t like tea and never drank tea, he poured three cups of green tea for his three guests; Lugavoy, Kovtun and Litvinenko.
And there they sat, everyone except Kovtun talking, with the murder weapon perched just inches from the left hand of its intended target, disguised as a humble cup of tea, inside of which was a poison; so discrete it had almost no taste, so deadly they only needed a few drops, so lethal there was no cure, and it took effect so slowly, that hours from now when their victim would start dying, his killers would long gone. All they needed was for Litvinenko to take a drink.
But it wasn’t arsenic, mercury or even cyanide; three readily available poisons which are easy to buy, administer, dispose of and disguise. No, their poison of choice was the ridiculously rare and impossibly expensive Polonium-210; a radioactive isotope made in a nuclear reactor, which although invisible, undetectable and (when swallowed) is one hundred billion times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide, and yet every batch of Polonium 210 has a unique chemical signature which identifies its precise location of origin - with this batch coming from a supposedly secret FSB laboratory in Sarov, Russia.
Of course, Lugavoy & Kovtun can’t really be blamed for choosing such a ludicrous poison, as access to nuclear chemicals clearly happened well above their miniscule pay-grade, and had either man been informed what they had secreted in an eye-dropper - instead of dressing like a Laura Ashley table-cloth and an extra-long roll of tin-foil - maybe having purchased rubber gloves, gas-masks, wellington boots and a set of Hazmat suits, they may have been a tad more careful with how they smuggled, handled, and eventually disposed of one of the world’s deadliest radioactive poisons.
Weeks later, when nuclear scientists examined the Erinys fourth-floor boardroom with their Geiger Counters, it was heaving with radioactive contamination. To put this into context; the safe level of radiation that the average person absorbs (through sunlight) every 207 days is roughly 100 Clicks Per Minute, a standard Geiger counter is set to record up to a maximum of 500 Clicks Per Minute, and yet, almost every piece of furniture in that room caused a “full-scale deflection” – readings so high, they were off the scale.
But with a large uneven patch of the green fabric table cloth, where Litvinenko had been sitting, spiking at a 160 times higher than the safe radiation level, it indicated that (at some point before the meeting had ended) Alexander Litvinenko had spilled his tea… and left, having not drank a single drop.
Later that evening, with his skin having been exposed to high levels of Polonium 210, when Litvinenko arrived back at his Muswell Hill home, he began to feel unwell, and as his body was struck down with radiation sickness, he started to vomit. But by the morning, he was fine, and thinking he had eaten some bad Sushi during his post-meeting debrief with Lugavoy & Kovtun, he put his queasiness down to a mild case of food poisoning, got dressed, had breakfast and continued with his day.
The assassination was a total disaster; not just because their victim was still alive, well and unharmed, but because (having spilled the poisoned tea) everywhere that Litvinenko’s bungling assassins went and on everything they touched, they left a very distinctive radioactive trail, all across the West End, from Erinys at 25 Grosvenor Street to Itsu (the Sushi restaurant) at 167 Piccadilly.
And instead of commiserating their abject failure as the Kremlin’s most incompetent assassins ever, Lugavoy & Kovtun spent the night dressed and acting like two low-rent hoods who’d just conned four hundred quid out of a blind old lady by selling her a cut & shut Nissan Micra. Having first gorged themselves silly on £214’s worth of Italian seafood and pizzas at Pescatori on Charlotte Street, they then smoked a £9 shisha pipe on the terrace of the Dar Marrakesh in the Trocadero centre, hired a rickshaw for an hour-long midnight ride around the West End, taking in a few of its seediest bars, and feeling slightly affronted by the heavy homosexual vibe of Soho, these two very manly men (wearing brightly coloured shirts and an excess of jewellery) were so desperate to “meet some girls”, that they ended the night by partying it up at Helvo in Jermyn Street, a private member’s club styled like a Russian brothel, complete with frilly pink cubicles, mirrored walls, the dancefloor dominated by a large bronze cock, and a bordello style bathroom which spurted hot water from penis-shaped taps.
Later, in Room 107 of The Shaftesbury Hotel, being a little worse-for-wear having quaffed an ungodly excess of pink champagne, with Lugavoy being a highly trained assassin who knew not only how to kill but also how to cover his tracks, he took the remainder of the Polonium 210, and tipped it down the sink, contaminating the bathroom, the pipework and the hotel, as this highly radioactive isotope sat in the sink’s u-bend emitting 30 times the safe level of radiation for weeks to come.
And even though they’d paid in advance for two nights at The Shaftesbury hotel, Lugavoy & Kovtun promptly checked-out early the next morning, hopped in a cab and booked into the Parkes Hotel at Beaufort Gardens, Knightsbridge, whinging to the staff about the condition of the rooms, when it is safe to say that the real reason they left wasn’t a deep-seated desire to sleep on firmer beds, softer sheets and fluffier pillows, they just wanted to get as far away as possible from the nuclear disaster they’d unleashed in a Soho bathroom.
The following morning, on Wednesday 18th October 2006, having packed away their pimp costumes (perhaps feeling a little fed-up with resembling an all-white tribute act to the Blaxploitation film Shaft), Lugavoy & Kovtun hopped on the next Transaero flight from Heathrow to Moscow, and having left traces of Polonium 210 in seats 26E and 26F, they ensured that (with the British authorities desperate to test both planes) that neither Boeing 747 returned to British airspace ever again.
Sadly, the same could not be said for Andrey Lugavoy, the poor man’s Daniel Craig, as having had his hand slapped, his knuckles rapped and his bottom smacked by his bosses in the FSB, they ordered him to return to London to do it properly. Only this time he left behind his partner-in-crime, Dimitri Kovtun, a man with a bafflingly long career in one of the most secretive organisations ever – the KGB, and yet, days before his failed attempt to kill Litvinenko, he had confided to a friend “I’ve got a very expensive poison, I’ve got to put it in their food or drink, do you know any chefs or waiters who could help me?”
One week later, on Wednesday 25th October 2006, having packed a less-embarrassing suit and making full use of the FSB’s liberal expenses policy for hired assassins, Lugavoy flew from Moscow to Heathrow on British Airways flight 875, sitting in seat 6k of business class, with a fresh batch of Polonium 210 safely ensconced in his bag, and checked himself into the five-star Sheraton Park Hotel on Piccadilly, just by The Ritz, occupying Room 848 on the eighth floor, which had lovely views over Green Park.
That afternoon, in the hotel’s art-deco tea-room called Palm Court, Lugavoy and Litvinenko met once again, and this time, Lugavoy’s intended target sat there, in front of him, his left hand rising and falling as he repeatedly put the tea-cup to his lips, thirstily supping great glugs of green tea from a silver teapot, and never once spilling a single drop, until every last drop of tea was drank.
But he didn’t die, he didn’t even feel ill, in fact Litvinenko found it quite refreshing, and was very grateful for the free tea, not just because he was a skinflint who hated wasting good money on over-priced items, but – as a defected Russian dissident - it was nice to have a drink paid for by FSB.
A short while later, the meeting ended, they shook hands and parted ways. And for reasons which aren’t fully understood, inside Lugavoy’s bag was an unopened vile of Polonium 210.
Later, in Room 848 of The Sheraton Park Hotel, being a little tipsy having quaffed three large glasses of red wine and puffed away on a king-sized Cuban cigar, with Lugavoy being a highly trained assassin who knew not only how to kill but also how to cover his tracks, he took the unused bottle of Polonium 210, opened it, and poured it down the sink, once again contaminating the bathroom, the pipework and the hotel, as well as a small white peddle-bin next to the loo where he had casually discarded the radioactive eye-dropper, and several white hand-towels, having used them to mop-up the lethal nuclear poison which he had spilled all over the floor.
So bad was this spill, that weeks later, when two nuclear scientists from Aldermaston’s Atomic Weapons Establishment examined Room 848, not only had Lugavoy done an awful job of cleaning-up the mess, having splashed Polonium on the floor, walls, door, the bath, the sink and the loo, but with their Geiger counters recording ”full-scale deflections” which were 500 times higher than safe levels, the bathroom was so radioactive, that even whilst wearing breathing apparatus and Hazmat suits, the nuclear scientists asked to withdraw to a safe distance and the room was sealed until further notice.
Once again, Lugavoy returned to Russia, received another slapped wrist, rapped knuckles and smacked bottom, only to be ordered to return to the UK, so that – this time – he could kill Litvinenko properly.
So, one week later, once again, Lugavoy flew back to Britain, packing a third bottle of radioactive Polonium 210, only this time he was aided by his trusty partner-in-crime, Dimitri Kovtun, the sulky Jose Mourinho look-a-like, because clearly they had worked so well together the first time.
On Tuesday 31st October 2006, at 8:30pm, into the five star Millennium Hotel at 44 Grosvenor Square, just three hundred feet from their first ill-fated assassination attempt at Erinys offices, and just two hundred feet from the US Embassy and its CIA surveillance substation, Lugavoy entered. This time his disguise was simple and effective, as dressed in blue jeans, a black leather jacket and a mustard yellow jumper, he looked like a regular family man, as that’s what he was, as on this trip, he was accompanied by his wife Svetlana, their three daughters, a family friend and his eight year old son Igor.
Being in a jubilant mood, surrounded by his loved ones and excited to watch his beloved football team, CSKA Moscow who were due to play against Arsenal the next evening, everyone was in high spirits, unaware of the real ulterior motive for this hastily arranged holiday.
On Wednesday 1st November 2006, at just after 2pm, 44 year old Alexander Litvinenko left his home in Muswell Hill (North London), dressed in a blue denim jacket and dark jeans, and being conscious of the exorbitant cost of travel in the capital city, especially as his consultancy work for MI6 wasn’t full-time and didn’t pay all that well, using his pre-paid Oyster card, he hopped on the W7 bus, riding ten stops to Finsbury Park, then headed nine stops south on the Piccadilly Line to Piccadilly Circus.
At 3pm, for a pre-arranged lunch at Itsu (the heavily contaminated sushi restaurant where two weeks earlier he had a meeting debrief with his bungling cack-handed assassins), Litvinenko met with Mario Scaramella, an ex-FSB agent, security consultant, lawyer and (ironically) an expert in nuclear weapons.
And yet, their lunch would only be brief; as with Lugavoy & Kovtun eager to finally do a good job, not be proved to be total imbeciles, to ensure the swift and successful death of Alexander Litvinenko, and all without missing the 7pm kick-off between CSKA Moscow and Arsenal, Lugavoy repeatedly called his target, badgering him to “hurry up”.
With their careers and lives on the line, nerves had clearly got the better of them, as they paced back and forth, double-checked their watches and dashed into the loo every few minutes (leaving a trail of radiation on everything they touched, including the sink, the taps, the dryer, and – almost certainly - their genitals). And although they’d only been waiting in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel for thirty minutes, Lugavoy & Kovtun had clocked up a bill of £70.60, for three gin and tonics, one champagne cocktail, one Romeo y Julieta cigar, one neat Gordon’s gin, and a pot of green tea with three cups.
At 3:59pm, Litvinenko arrived in the Millennium Hotel lobby, phoned Lugavoy and was ushered into the Pine Bar where Kovtun was seated. Both men seemed uptight and jumpy; with Kovtun even more moody and depressed than usual, as he sat there, saying very little, perpetually scowling like a man who (once again) was staring failure in the face. And although they had little time to spare, as much as Litvinenko diligently steered the conversation to their upcoming meeting with private security firm Global Risk, once again, Lugavoy steered the chat back to whether his guest would like a drink.
But all that was left on the table were a few empty gin & tonic bottles, a dribble of champagne cocktail, a bent cigar stub and – having got bored of waiting – before they’d added the Polonium, Lugavoy & Kovtun had drank most of the tea, meaning all that remained in the teapot was half a cup of cold green tea, with an unusually bitter taste, which was one hundred billion times deadlier than cyanide.
Being the Pine Bar’s ever dutiful waiter, Norberto Andrade asked Litvinenko “would you like to have anything to drink?”, which Lugavoy repeated, his pestering having become insufferable, but once again, not wanting to waste his own money, Litvinenko said “no”. And for the third time in two weeks, a simple assassination attempt had been thwarted by a teetotal man who wasn’t very thirsty.
But as the conversation progressed, Lugavoy became more persistent, pressuring Litvinenko that “if you would like something, order something for yourself, but we’re going to be leaving soon”, pointing to the white ceramic teapot and adding “If you want some tea, then there is some left here, you can have some of this?”
At approximately 4:20pm, the meeting was over, handshakes were given and a small dribble of highly radioactive cold green tea remained in Litvinenko’s cup, having poured what was left out of politeness.
Impatient to get to the football match at Arsenal’s north London stadium, Lugavoy’s wife Svetlana arrived in the hotel foyer, eagerly waved at her husband and mouthed the words “let’s go, let’s go”. And as the Lugavoy family mingled in the bar, with the ever-moody Kovtun declaring “I’m very tired, I want to sleep” and bailing on the hotly-anticipated match, Lugovoi – in a truly strange act of arrogance and perhaps self-sabotage - introduced his eight-year-old son Igor to Litvinenko, saying “This is Uncle Sasha, shake his hand”, which the boy dutifully did, not knowing that – just minutes earlier – Alexander Litvinenko had used that same hand to grasp the white ceramic handle, to raise the radioactive cup to his lips and to sup three small sips of cold green tea. Shortly afterwards, both parties parted ways, a few small drops of Polonium 210 in Litvinenko’s system.
Nuclear scientists dressed in boots, masks and hazmat suits would later examine the Pine Bar at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square and detected radioactive traces on the table, the chairs, most door-handles, an ashtray, numerous glasses, cups, spoons, saucers, a milk jug and a sugar bowl, with the largest “full-scale deflection” reading coming off the white ceramic teapot, which the staff had unwittingly placed in the dishwasher, reused it with subsequent guests and spreading the radioactive isotope to the walls, the floor, the till, an ice-cream scoop, a chopping board and even a piano stool.
That evening, in Room 382 of The Millennium Hotel, being a little tipsy having quaffed two gin & tonics and a champagne cocktail, with Kovtun being a highly trained assassin who knew not only how to kill but also how to cover his tracks… yes, you’ve guessed it… he poured what remained of the Polonium 210 down the sink, contaminating another bathroom, another set of pipework and another hotel.
Travelling his usual route home, Litvinenko rode the Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park, hopped on the W7 bus to Muswell Hill and – by the time Lugavoy and his family were getting seated to watch an uneventful goalless match between CSKA Moscow and Arsenal – he was back home, feeling fine, and ready to enjoy a celebratory dinner with his beloved wife (Marina) and young son (Anatoly), as today was the sixth anniversary of their arrival in Britain, having sought the safety, asylum and sanctuary of London, and fled the fear, the corruption and the threats of assassination in their native Russia.
At a little after midnight, feeling a little drowsy after a hearty dinner, Litvinenko was lying in bed when his head started to ache, which was to be expected after an exhausting day. With his energy drained and his brain throbbing, he noticed that his dry pale skin had become unusually sweaty, itchy and pockmarked with red inflamed patches, which could easily be attributed to an allergy. And suddenly feeling dizzy, hot and nauseous, he started to vomit, again and again and again, but this wasn’t food-poisoning, and as the night progressed, his condition got worse.
Litvinenko was transferred to the Critical Care Unit of University College Hospital, just off Tottenham Court Road, under his British pseudonym Edwin Redwald Carter, where – for 23 days – doctors struggled to save his life, witnessing a range of symptoms they’d never seen before, or since, as each of his limb’s went numb, his bone marrow dried up and every organ in his body slowly failed, not realising there was no treatment, no cure and no hope of his survival. And as Marina stroked her husband’s head, his reddish-brown hair came out in great clumps in her hand.
As he lay, in bed, his gaunt pale skin looking ghostly against his green surgical gown, with his cheeks hollow, his eyes sunken and numerous catheters, drips and tubes connecting his failing body to an endless series of life-saving machines, Litvinenko – who’s head and body was now completely bald – resembled a terminal cancer patient who was dying at an exponentially rapid speed.
Over three days, mustering every ounce of energy his body could summon, Litvinenko gave eighteen interviews to the Police, during which he identified Andrey Lugavoy and Dimitri Kovtun as his assassins, and yet – in a signed statement, read out to the assembled press by his friend Alex Goldfarb – he laid his assassination squarely at one man, stating “You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life”.
On 23rd November 2006 at 3pm, shocked scientists at Aldermaston Nuclear Weapons Establishment confirmed that the poison used was Polonium 210. But – that same day - having suffered his third heart attack in 24 hours, medics struggled to revive his weakened body, and by the time his beloved wife Marina and their young son Anatoly had rushed to be by his side, at 9:21pm 44 year old Alexander Litvinenko was pronounced dead. He was laid to rest in a lead-lined casket at Highgate cemetery.
To this day, Russian authorities refuse to accept the findings of the British inquiry, Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the evidence as false, and both the FSB and KGB have suggested that the death of Alexander Litvinenko was either an accident, a suicide, or that he had attempted to assassinate Lugavoy & Kovtun, with Russian authorities refusing to extradite the men for questioning.
Andrey Lugavoy & Dimitri Kovtun were hospitalised having been exposed to deadly doses of Polonium 210, they both made a full recovery; today Dimitri Kovtun is a moody security specialist in Moscow, and Andrey Lugavoy is a prominent Russian politician, deputy of Russian Parliament’s lower house, and he has also carved out a niche as a TV presenter on a factual series about Russian spies who defect to the UK, with an episode about the ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko. The series is called ‘Traitors’.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
If you’re looking for a new podcast, this week’s treat is MAUL. The Mysteries and Urban Legends podcast, which delves into – not just true-crime – but also ghosts, myths, murder, mayhem, so if you like chat with charm, horror with humour, and scary tales with surprises, then this may be the podcast for you. (PLAY PROMO)
Don’t forget to check out the Murder Mile website at murdermiletours.com, find us on Twitter or Instagram, or join the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast discussion group on Facebook.
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Next week’s episode… will be something different.
Thank you and sleep well.
Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed by Kai Engel, as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0. A list of tracks used and the links are listed on the relevant transcript blog here
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
Subscribe to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast
Note: This blog contains only licence-free images or photos shot by myself in compliance with UK & EU copyright laws. If any image breaches these laws, blame Google Images.